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Early voting going strong, County Mayor explains sales tax referendum.

October 24, 2018

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

Nearly 700 people voted in the first two days of the early voting period, which began on Wednesday according to the Johnson County Election Office with 350 casting ballots on Wednesday and 333 on Thursday. Registered voters can take advantage of early voting through Thursday, Nov 1.

“Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” is usually attributed to a letter written by Benjamin Franklin in 1789 and it still rings true more than 200 years later. Cities and counties have relied on state-shared taxes to varying degrees for more than one hundred years. The state sales tax rate currently sits at seven percent, but county-based tax rates can vary depending on local municipalities. Johnson County’s current rate with the state tax is eight and one-half cents on each dollar.

On the November election ballot is a resolution to raise the county sales tax option one-half cent from one and one-half cents on each dollar to two cents on each dollar. Currently if one were to purchase an item that costs $1, with taxes added, that item would cost $1.09, because the business cannot accept one half of a cent and the register’s computer will round up to the nearest cent. That half-cent per dollar does not return to the county for county use since the established county rate is one and one-half on each dollar  spent.

“We are already paying the extra half-cent on some things, and it’s going to the state, not our county,” explained Megan McEwen, who currently serves of the county board of commissioners as one of the representatives of the fifth district. “We are losing money. Money that could help our schools, city, and county and we are paying it anyway so why wouldn’t we want it to come back here?”

Reportedly, if the resolution passes on the ballot, all taxes collected under the county portion of the sales tax will be returned to the county. To generate the revenue that this half-cent per sales tax dollar would raise is equivalent to four and one-half cents on the property tax dollar. Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor explains the resolution only seeks to capture tax money already being paid and bring that half-cent back to Johnson County.

“When you look at a sales tax map of Tennessee counties you will see that Johnson County has the lowest retail sales tax in the state,” explained Mike Taylor, Johnson County Mayor. Taylor reports the sales tax rate has remained unchanged since 1963.

Not wishing to increase property taxes, last year Johnson County Commissioners voted in favor of placing a referendum on a half-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot, which, if passed, would change the rate from 8 ½ percent to nine percent on each purchase. “That is an increase of one half of a penny on every dollar you spend,” explained Taylor, “or you could say 50 cents of additional cost on every 100 dollars spent, and that increase will remain here.”

The State of Tennessee mandates that all counties submit a balanced budget every year. As the costs of running a household or a business increase year to year, so it is with the operating of a county.

“This county does around $100 million of retail sales each year,” said Taylor, who explains one-half of a penny increase on this amount is expected to generate approximately $500,000. “These funds would be distributed to the School System, City, and County,” said Taylor, “helping to keep property taxes at a low rate.”

Mayor Taylor explained how the increase would be allocated. “One-half of local sales tax money goes to help fund the Johnson County School System,” he said, “with the other half going to the town of Mountain City and Johnson County in their general budgets.”

One area in need of additional funding, according to the mayor, is the current pay for Johnson County Sheriff’s Department officers. “These men and women put their lives on the line every day for not much more than minimum wage,” said Taylor, who intends to push for a portion of any increase in tax revenue used towards better wages
for Sheriff Tester’s department.

While Taylor realizes any increase in taxes is not  popular, he explains this increase would be evenly distributed. “Sales tax is collected from each individual that makes a purchase,” he explained, “not just property owners, or people registering vehicles. Likewise, those that come to visit and enjoy our beautiful county will contribute as they make local purchases.”

For comparison, Carter and Unicoi Counties each have a sales tax rate of 9.75 percent.  For early voting hours visit www.jctnvote.com or call 423-727-8592.